Originally Published: October 6, 2015 12:45 a.m.
Who knows why breast cancer struck Gretta Larson at age 73. She was in good health and had annual checkups and mammograms. But in early December 2014, Larson's mammogram showed "a little something" that caused the radiologist concern. She had an MRI a couple weeks later, and held off until after the holidays to tell her family.
In January, Larson met with Dr. Dimitra Manjoros, who spent two hours explaining the test results, detailing options and answering questions. Then she provided a list of doctors in case Larson wanted a second opinion.
"She said, 'If you want a second opinion, it won't hurt my feelings,'" Larson said. So she did, meeting with a doctor at Banner Health in Phoenix, who basically stated the same information as Dr. Manjoros.
Larson, whose six-month checkup on Sept. 21 confirmed she is now cancer-free, underwent a lumpectomy in early March followed by five days of twice-a-day radiation in Sedona using a new treatment called SAVI Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation. Approved by the FDA in 2006, the device delivers radiation from inside the lumpectomy cavity, minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues. It can be used when cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
Now 74, Larson said she considers herself fortunate in many ways, especially in finding good doctors. Dr. Manjoros offered several treatment options, but recommended against a mastectomy. Larson also opted not to receive chemotherapy.
"A lot of people do chemo, but I saw no point," she said.
A physicist, present at every radiation treatment, put the dosage together and administered it from a nearby room. Larson learned to track the five-minute procedure by counting the "clicks" as each prong dispensed the radiation dose. She was prepared for some side effects, but said she had none.
Although her brother, who smoked, died recently of lung cancer that went into his bones, Larson said cancer did not run in her family. Possibly her grandmother had cancer of some kind in the 1950s, but she sought no treatment and lived a long time, dying of "old age."
"You never know what causes it," she said, adding that she took hormone therapy for about 10 years while going through menopause, which may have contributed to developing breast cancer.
Larson continues to work out regularly at the gym, and doesn't follow any particular diet except to stay away from soy products on the advice of her doctor.
"I recommend getting a mammogram. I go every year. My internist said about 98 percent of breast cancers he treated were the result of a diagnosis from mammograms."